People Management

Poor boundaries are driving leadership burnout

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Article by Shelley Flett

The topic of boundaries has become increasingly important in recent years, particularly around preventing and managing burnout among leaders. Year after year, the expectations placed on people leaders have grown to unsustainable levels, leading to detrimental consequences such as exhaustion, deteriorating mental health, disengagement, and even resignation.

In the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index, it was discovered that 66% of Australian managers suffered from burnout, compared to the global average of 53%. 2023 is shaping up to be the “big reset” where workloads and expectations must be reassessed and adjusted. For the past three years, we have been reacting to our environment without pressing pause, attempting to incorporate strategic changes and forward-focused adjustments on top of an already overwhelming workload. This relentless pace is pushing many leaders to the brink.

As an executive coach and facilitator, I have worked with numerous leaders, helping them shift their approach to work and life, ensuring they can avoid burnout and continue to succeed in their careers. Through my experience, I have found that boundaries make the most significant difference for every leader I have coached on this topic.

Boundaries are personal expectations that individuals set for themselves to create balance and maintain control over their lives. While they may differ from person to person, their purpose remains the same: to establish a healthy, sustainable equilibrium in life.

Leaders must prioritise self-care to be fully available to serve others. Boundaries enable leaders to balance individual support with the expectations of their role, fostering an environment where they can lead with love, kindness, care, and compassion. Prentis Hemphill eloquently describes boundaries as “the distance at which I can love you and me, simultaneously.”

Understanding the expectations of one’s role within the organisation is a crucial aspect of establishing boundaries. Without clarity on what success looks like, it becomes challenging to set boundaries that align with achieving one’s goals. Regular conversations with managers about role expectations are essential. Failure to engage in these conversations risks either taking on more than one can reasonably handle, compromising personal well-being, or becoming too rigid with boundaries, which can lead to irrelevance in an evolving role.

By setting boundaries, leaders can avoid overcommitting themselves and focus on the priorities that will bring professional and personal success in the short and long term. It is through these boundaries that leaders can achieve a sustainable work-life balance and ensure their well-being while effectively leading their teams.

Individual boundaries play a vital role in preventing leadership burnout. Leaders must manage role expectations to ensure they create balance and maintain control over their lives. By understanding role expectations, practicing compassion, and setting boundaries, leaders can navigate the demanding nature of their positions while preserving their well-being and achieving long-term success.

Shelley Flett is a leadership development & team performance expert with over 15 years working as, for and with leaders to build capability, increase effectiveness and create high performance team cultures. She has a rich leadership, operations and customer service background with people being central to everything she’s done in her career. Shelley is the Author of ‘The Dynamic Leader: Become the leader others are inspired to follow’ and ‘Feedback: Seek it, Give it, Connect with it’. For more information about how Shelley can help your leaders visit

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